The third of the eight hitting keys I teach is the most important and the most controversial, especially for those who don’t really understand how to attain high bat speed, maximum power, and consistency. Most baseball and softball people refer to what I am about to describe as “the load”. For me, it is much more than that.
If we truly believe power comes from the ground, then this part of the swing should make perfect sense. When I teach this hitting key during the initial lesson for baseball or softball hitters, I playfully ask them to do something “difficult” (but not really). I ask them to lift their front foot off the ground and put it right back down where it started. Almost always, I get a quizzical look because this is such a simple request, and yet I said it would be difficult. As I ask them several times to lift their front foot off the ground, I see many variations of this simple request. I often observe a front leg that stays stiff as it comes off the ground and is placed back down. Or, I observe a front foot that barely comes off the ground, even after I ask them to really lift it high off the ground. I often observe a good front leg lift, but with too much body and head movement. The purpose of this simple leg lift test is intended to give the hitter an idea of the importance of the initial weight transfer to the back leg, knee, and foot. This weight transfer is critical to the generation of kinetic energy that originates from the ground. Without this weight transfer, it is impossible to generate as much bat speed and power as a hitter’s body will allow.
So, what is the proper amount of leg lift? What I mean by “leg lift” is bending and lifting the front leg as high as is comfortable for hitters, WITHOUT moving the head. Hitters should feel the weight transfer against the back foot/leg. If hitters are in an athletic position on the balls of the feet, then they should really feel the connection to the ground. I typically spend a good amount of time working on this weight transfer/load, because it is so important to the initiation of the powerful swing that is about to come. I have included some pictures along with this post as examples of how high the leg lift should be. At the top of this post is a picture of an effective leg lift by one of the top high school softball players in the state of Illinois.
Along with the leg lift, which transfers the majority of a hitter’s weight from a neutral and athletic stance, to the back leg/foot, I recommend what I call “an inward turn”. This slight inward turn of the hips will provide even more power during the swing, especially when combined with the slight inward turn of the shoulder we discussed in “The Calm Before The Lightning” post. This inward turn of the hips during the weight transfer (leg lift) will put even more pressure on the back leg, which is good, because more pressure means hitters are tapping into even more energy from the ground. If you look at most Major League hitters, they will incorporate this subtle inward turn of the hips for that extra burst of power. It is important to note that, even with this inward hip turn, the upper body, including the head should remain perfectly still.
For some hitters, trying to perfect this inward turn will inadvertently cause too much upper body movement. To quickly correct this, I ask these hitters to drop the bat and do an old dance– “The Twist”. When this dance is done properly, the lower body swivels back and forth, but the upper body remains very still. What we are trying to accomplish with the weight transfer and inward turn is the independent cocking or setting of the lower body. I call this movement the “power lift and turn”.
The next step is not a step at all. Rather, I ask hitters to place the front foot that has been lifted off the ground right back where it stated. However, not to just place it back on the ground, but drive the ball of the front foot into the ground. Hitters should now feel some of the weight from the back leg and foot shift to the front leg and foot. The front leg that is now connected again to the ground should become fairly stiff. This stiff front leg acts as a barrier to keep the kinetic energy that has been generated from escaping until the completion of the swing. At this point both legs/feet are connected powerfully to the ground.
How to drive the ball to all fields
It is important to discuss another huge benefit of the power lift and turn. In addition to contributing to higher bat speed and thus, more power, physically lifting the front foot off the ground will enhance a hitters’ ability to react and hit inside or outside pitches. As the softball or baseball pitcher is about to release the ball, hitters should respond with the power lift and turn. Depending on the path of the pitch, hitters are now in a position to make the fine adjustment necessary to hit a pitch on the outside or inside portion of the plate with authority. For example, if the pitch is on the outside corner of the plate, hitters can drive the front foot down into the ground a few inches toward the plate to ensure the big part of the bat will make solid contact with the ball. Conversely, if the pitch is inside, hitters can drive the front foot a few inches into the ground away from the plate. Again, this will give hitters a better chance to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat.
A trend in baseball and softball today is for hitters to attempt a weight shift without lifting the front foot off the ground. Hitters who don’t actually lift the front foot, not only loses valuable power, they cannot drive inside or outside pitches consistently. Inside pitches will naturally jam these hitters and outside pitches can only be hit by reaching with the hands and arms. This results in lower bat speed, less power, and less consistency.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, lifting the front leg as the pitch is controversial, especially in softball circles. The best baseball players in history have lifted their front legs to transfer their weight. However, the majority of fastpitch softball coaches or hitting instructors are very critical when they see my softball players “load like guys”. They claim softball hitters don’t have enough time to load and still catch up with the ball traveling at 60+ mph. If you have read some of the previous posts on this site, you know I totally disagree with this assertion. Hitters who lift their front leg/foot generate more bat speed, which I can objectively prove with the hitting radar. Hitters with higher bat speed can actually wait longer to see exactly which direction the pitched ball is travelling. The last thing I worry about with my softball hitters, who attain batspeeds between 70 mph and 85 mph, is whether they can catch up to a pitch. They know that with batspeed in this range, no pitcher will be able to consistently throw the ball past them.
I always tell my hitters and their parents that if a hitting instructor is unable to explain the benefits of the hitting mechanics they teach, they should be highly skeptical. The two benefits of lifting the front foot/leg are more batspeed and the ability to drive the ball powerfully to all fields. My hitters can make the fine adjustment when they plant their front foot to hit the outside pitch without reaching and hit the inside pitch without getting jammed.
I have yet to have a coach or hitting instructor explain the benefits of hitters shifting their weight without lifting the front foot to me. Many claim that hitters who do not lift the front foot/leg are “quicker to the ball”. As I have written in the early life of this blog, hitters who don’t load, or don’t set up with their hands back toward the catcher, or don’t extend their arms fully at impact with the ball, are NOT quicker to the ball. Instead, they have slower bats, less power, and they get jammed and have to reach for inside or outside pitches. These hitters are “stuck in the mud!”
Here are a few more pictures of baseball and softball hitters who are NOT stuck in the mud: